Autism at ACU

Through research, advocacy and a range of supports and initiatives, we are addressing the social and environmental challenges experienced by autistic students attending university.

Supporting our students

We recognise that every person with autism is an individual, with different strengths and challenges. We encourage students to use different aspects of our support depending on their individual interests and needs, such as peer mentors, social activities and low-sensory rooms.

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Projects and initiatives

Through the development of a range of initiatives and supports, the Autism at Uni program aims to address the challenges experienced by autistic students attending university and help ease the transition into the higher education environment.

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Research and advocacy

Our research into public understanding and acceptance of autism and autistic people’s lived experiences is helping to develop resources and practices that enable autistic people to thrive by focusing upon strengths and identifying inclusive approaches.

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Collaborating for solutions

Our program is unique in being conceived and guided by autistic people to ensure we are meeting their needs and collaborating on solutions. We also work with industry partners and other educational institutions to share knowledge and influence policy.

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We respect each individual’s choice as to how they would prefer to describe themselves and/or be referred to by others.

While many may be more familiar with person-first language (i.e., person with autism) there is clear preference in the autistic community for the use of identity-first language (i.e., autistic person). Identity first language “reflects the belief that being autistic is a core part of a person’s identity. Similar examples of ‘identity first’ language can be found in the Blind and Deaf communities” (Autism Awareness Australia). Thus, this is the terminology used on these ACU webpages.

Consistent with its mission as a Catholic university, ACU is committed to supporting the dignity and well-being of all people in a manner that is sustainable and builds capacity at individual and/or organisational levels. There is a particular focus on working with communities who have experienced disadvantage and/or marginalisation.

Autistic people experience a number of barriers to inclusion and to reaching their potential; many of these barriers are social and environmental in nature.

Some of the most significant barriers experienced by autistic people occur in education and employment. A large majority of autistic children who are attending school (86%1) report ‘having difficulty’ at school, primarily difficulties with fitting in socially, learning and communication. Of those who complete secondary school, only 19% receive a post school qualification – compared to 59% of those with any form of disability1. Autistic people are less likely to be participating in the labour force2. In 2012, the labour force participation rate for autistics was 42%; compared to 53% of those with any form of disability and 83% of those without a disability.

As the understanding of autism has increased, the rate of diagnosis has also increased. In 2015 the ABS reported a prevalence rate of 1 in 1502, which is likely to be a considerable underestimation. Autism Spectrum Australia estimates it to be as high as 1 in 70 based on recent international data.

1. ABS (2012) 4428.0 - Autism in Australia, 2012 https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4428.0Main+Features12012?OpenDocument
2. ABS (2015). Autism in Australia. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4430.0Main%20Features752015

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Disability support

If you are a student with a diagnosed health condition, disability, learning disability, or have carer responsibilities that may impact your studies, we can give you the support you need.

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